This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

Authorities have not done enough to prosecute rapists

In the Media

Times Online
Ruth Hall and Sally Freeman, February 11, 2008

This Saturday, women from across the UK will describe their experiences of sexual and domestic violence in a public trial to be held in London. The event – The Rape of Justice – Who’s Guilty? – coincides with the 30th anniversary of the campaigning group, Women Against Rape (WAR). Over three decades, WAR has campaigned for changes in the law, including the recognition of rape inside marriage as a crime. It won a landmark private prosecution against a serial rapist after the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute in a case brought by two prostitutes: the rapist was sentenced to 11 years. Below, in an open letter to the Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, QC, the group states why it believes that the authorities are to blame for too little being done to prosecute rapists.

Dear Ms Baird,

The legal establishment increasingly admits that the performance of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judges is not what it should be. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, QC, and Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner John Yates point to “failure to put effort into investigations”, “inconsistent delivery”, and “best-practice ignored”. What should be done?

It is now widely acknowledged that the conviction rate for rape is unacceptably low (5.7 per cent for reported rape) and that all the legislation and policies put forward in the past ten years have done nothing to reverse this trend.

A former Solicitor-General, Mike O’Brien, told us that a plan of action had been introduced some time ago but that it was not implemented. Lack of implementation was also identified by the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate report: Without Consent last year. As the Chief Inspector of the CPS Stephen Wooler put it in January 2007: “What has really got to happen now is a period of ensuring that what should be done is actually being done.”

The blame does not lie with juries but with professionals not doing their jobs.

We asked you: “Do you accept that the problem in rape cases is the police and prosecution not doing their job?” You were not sure that was correct: “Juries won’t convict, that’s a cultural question. Why is it the police officers’ fault? Why is it the prosecutors’ fault?”

It’s easy to blame juries. But if they are not presented with the facts, how can they be expected to convict? As one juror wrote in a newspaper article in April, “. . . you have to form a judgment about the entire picture with two thirds of the pieces missing”. Other jurors have spoken publicly of similar problems. Besides, if juries hold prejudices, surely it is the job of the court — the judge in particular — to undermine rather than to encourage these?

The first prejudices rape victims face are not held by jurors but by police, prosecutors and judges, all of whom determine what evidence juries will hear and how that evidence will be presented.

The criminal justice agencies routinely do not collect the evidence, do not present the case accurately or forcefully in court; they do not defend the woman who is their key witness nor give her a chance to tell the jury what she has suffered. When we met the CPS we were told that police often do not collect evidence such as mobile phone records and forensic blood tests because it is “too expensive”. Similarly, research commissioned by the police and the local council in Ipswich following the tragic murders of five young women, confirmed our experience and that of other members of the Safety First Coalition (co-ordinated by the English Collective of Prostitutes) that police do not go after pimps because, again, “it’s too expensive”. It seems to be easier — and better for crime figures — to arrest the women for soliciting or their clients for kerb-crawling, than to go after those who are truly violent.

What is to happen to judges who appear to convey a prejudice or bias because of a woman or girl’s sexual history, job or social standing? You may remember a speaker at our our meeting relating the case of her 15-year-old daughter whose rapist was not convicted: “The judge in my daughter’s case seemed to be there just to assist the defence. Everything we brought up he ruled out or ruled against.” Her formal complaint against that judge is being investigated. But he is very far from an exception.

Although judges have to be “ticketed” (ie, deemed capable) before they can preside over rape cases, your predecessor Mike O’Brien told us that only two tickets had been removed from judges in the past eight years — and for what reason we do not know.

Professor Liz Kelly has argued that what is needed is not discipline (which “would make the police angry”) but supervision of officers and lawyers and monitoring against performance levels. But how do performance levels hold anyone to account if nothing happens when their performance is poor?

The Government has trumpeted the introduction of specialist police units and specialist rape prosecutors. Mrs Freeman said: “In my daughter’s case the Sapphire Unit police — London’s specialist rape team — took three months (and a threat of legal action) before arresting the man (who was known to them!), failed to interview witnesses, and lost the mobile phone evidence — and they didn’t even tell my daughter they had done so. You don’t have to be a specialist to know you should gather the basic evidence and make sure it is presented in court, or that you should arrest a man accused of raping a 15-year-old schoolgirl. It’s common sense. What training do they need for that? What’s the point of having specialists if they’re not doing their job?”

Again and again we hear about specialist police who do not get clothing forensically tested or gather CCTV or phone evidence; specialist prosecutors who turn down strong cases on the flimsiest excuse; rape-ticketed judges who appear unsympathetic to the prosecution case. How is it possible that no one in Government (or Opposition) has noticed?

The problem is not a lack of skills. Sexism appears to be institutionalised in the criminal justice system. Certainly, some women and men in the police force and the CPS really want to get rapists convicted; but too many others block change. Often, instead of being disciplined, they are promoted.

Why shouldn’t they be disciplined or dismissed?

You said: “I don’t think the odd disciplining of the odd officer would make much difference.” How would you know if it has hardly been tried? If a painter-decorator does an appalling job he doesn’t get paid. The civil servant who lost the CD with 25 million child benefit cases was suspended within hours. What makes police officers, prosecutors and judges immune?

It does not require hundreds of police officers, inspectors and commanders and prosecution lawyers to be sacked for standards to be raised. Even a few sackings will help to concentrate minds. Pauline Campbell, who has campaigned for penal reform since her 18-year-old daughter died in Styal Prison in 2003, quoted Lord Ramsbotham, former chief inspector of prisons as having said that it would take just one prison governor to be jailed for corporate manslaughter for the entire culture within penal institutions to be changed.

If you were to send a clear message that the management has changed and that negligence in the investigation and prosecution of rape will no longer be tolerated, the attitude and behaviour of men and women in the system would change rapidly.

They are waiting for the victim to give up.

On Radio Wales (November 12), you told Lisa Longstaff of WAR, “If there are real complaints to be made, they will be heard.” Well, maybe they are heard, but it seems that nothing is done about them.

Some of our members have taken their complaints to the highest level — in one case to Scotland Yard’s Gold Group, where, after an appallingly negligent investigation by a London police force, the woman was promised action and a new investigation and that steps would be taken about the officers on the ground. Instead, the key officer was promoted.

Scotland Yard police did indeed do a new investigation, only for the police to be turned down by the CPS. As Mrs Freeman says: “You are made to jump one hurdle after another, and they get higher and higher, until you can’t reach any more. They are waiting for you to give up.” And of course, many do give up: we have children and others to care for, livings to earn. It is not our job to prosecute rapists. But it is yours.

According to Beatrix Campbell, writing the New Statesman last April, unpublished research commissioned by the Metropolitan Police shows that: “More than half of the men accused of raping women who had been drinking, where the cases were ‘not crimed’, had a history of sexual offences against women.” She continued: “A third of suspects whose victims were under 18 were not investigated, but had histories of violent offending.”

Why has this research not been published?

Serial rapists and killers usually have a history of escalating violence that has gone unprosecuted. Perhaps the victims of Peter Sutcliffe, Anthony Hardy, Ian Huntley and others would have been saved if the men had been prosecuted for previous sexual violence against women and girls, starting with wives and girlfriends.

In response to the shocking murders of five young women sex workers in Ipswich, women are asking why, whatever our profession or behaviour, we remain so vulnerable, and unprotected from violent men. We know that while prostitute women are not safe, no woman is safe.

We know that every time the legal establishment allows a rapist to go unconvicted, almost inevitably it is condemning other women and children to become his victims. Why then is this, decade after decade, not a government priority? You know the reality, why won’t you act?

Ms Baird, you have seen the evidence, not just now but over years. You have yourself spoken in Parliament (March 2006) about the double standards in the way rape is investigated. Why then avoid dealing with the problem now that you are Solicitor-General? How can you expect attitudes to change when the system collaborators are at best allowed to get away with it, at worst encouraged with promotion?

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